We’ve had roguelike platformers and puzzle games and RPGs also, but as a huge fan of the concept behind rogue style games, I never thought I would see a racing game with shades of the genre. Road Redemption isn’t just a new spin on an old idea. While it looks like a spiritual successor to Road Rash, this game goes much deeper than that and does a brilliant job of it too.
When you first load the game, you get to choose a motorbike – modern superbike or old-fashioned Harley – along with a rider who comes with a weapon. Confirm your selections and the screen will fade to show a desolate wasteland with a light story attached, about biker gangs roaming the country searching for large bounties through racing and killing each other in said races. After this brief introduction you’re told that tracks, items and weapons are being randomly generated. Because yes, this is a roguelike.
No two races are the same. You won’t always pick up the same weapons and the tracks, while reasonably plain and not often challenging, will never repeat their path. Sometimes you’ll be tasked with a straight race and need to aim for a certain position. Other times you’ll have to kill a set number of enemy riders or just make it to the end of the course alive, within a specific time. The concept doesn’t drift too far from this structure, which is fine because there is depth elsewhere.
At the beginning of level one you have a health bar and a nitro bar. The latter is activated by tapping the accelerator twice, the former, should it be depleted, means game over. You’ll start right back at the first screen again, losing all your money and lovely upgrades which you can buy in between races. These range from replenishing health, to increases to your nitro tank or your strength. With each game over though, you are given the XP you’ve earned from racing and killing foes to spend on upgrades that remain with you throughout future playthroughs.
As these upgrades stay with you, it’s worth plotting a course through the skill trees which will suit your playstyle. The more you play, the more you will unlock and the same goes for new bikes and riders, too. Selecting the right combination of rider, bike and skills can dramatically change the game from moment to moment. You might select a rider who has less overall health, but who packs more of a punch. Or maybe a rider who comes with more weapons but lacks the overall strength.
Of course, new weapons litter the roads you’ll race along. Everything from crowbars to machine guns can be used against the other riders. Each foe dispatched, whether police or gang member, rewards you with some XP, a little money and a dribble of nitro. Falling behind the leaders in a race? Take someone out and utilise that boost. While you can strike out with your weapon on both sides, you can also kick nearby riders into the path of oncoming traffic which adds a little bonus to your rewards. It’s all out carnage.
Road Redemption is also very tough in places. Keeping a good amount of health while using money in other areas is a precarious balancing act. Sometimes you’ll need to gamble with little health in order to receive a boost elsewhere. All of these factors add up to a very enjoyable experience. However, it’s not a smooth ride through the country.
Sometimes the combat can feel a little skewed towards the opponent, especially at later levels where their difficulty increases, and they begin to parry your attacks. The physics are all over the place, meaning a bump in the road might create a bunny hop or launch you over a cliff. Melee weapons are generally easy to use, whereas the guns require a little aiming using the right stick while holding ‘ZR’ to accelerate, steer with the left stick and prepare to brake with ‘ZL’. It’s overly fiddly and crying out for a little aim assist to help in tight situations.
These issues pepper an otherwise great game which has somehow flipped the racing genre on its head. It can become a bit of a grind at times, striving to grab that next upgrade which will make your life a little easier. But when it works, it clicks into place and offers something more than so many racing games on the market. It’s an ideal game to dip in and out of through handheld as races don’t take long and you won’t lose any skill from taking a brief break. With a little patience, Road Redemption is a hell of a ride.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Tripwire Interactive